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Regions of Japan – Nagoya to Hokkaido June 7, 2011

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Hokkaido, Japan, Kanto, Tohoku, Tokyo, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Regions of Japan – Nagoya to Hokkaido” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-EX

 

Japan is a small country that happens to be very long.  From end to end, Japan is well over 1000km long.  It is larger than Germany in terms of land mass and has a very diverse ecosystem.  You have the cold snowy north and the sub-tropical south.  It is a common misconception that Japan is a small country.  I would also argue that many people feel that any country that is outside of their own region is small, especially for Americans and Canadians.  It is important to know that Japan, while small overall, is actually very long which helps create the illusion that it is small.

Japan is divided into 8 main regions with a few sub-regions.  In the north is Hokkaido.  I have written a lot about Sapporo and the various festivals there.  It is a winter wonderland and also a great summer getaway.  In the winter, people head up there for skiing and to enjoy the delicious seafood.  In the summer, the seafood is still around but people go to escape the heat and humidity of the south.  Compared to other regions in Japan, Hokkaido is a relatively stable and sparsely populated region.  It isn’t the “wild west” but it isn’t like Tokyo either.  Getting from point A to point B in Hokkaido can be very difficult due to the sheer distances between cities and towns and the lack of trains can make it a difficult task.  Renting a car is definitely recommended if you want to see the local areas such as Shiretoko but it isn’t a necessity.  The bus network between cities is pretty good and you can get from Sapporo to most cities in Hokkaido by bus.  Planes are not so popular and trains are good for the major cities.  Unfortunately the trains can take a long time to get from place to place but keeping on the main belt from Asahikawa to Sapporo, then down to Hakodate via either Chitose or Niseko is relatively easy.  Be prepared for long travel times and you will have a good time.

Tohoku is the northern section of Honshu, the main island of Japan.  The main island forms an ‘L’ shape and Tohoku is at the top of the ‘L’.  It is a region that is very similar to Hokkaido yet also very temperate in nature.  The most common starting point is Sendai.  Including Sendai, all points north are considered Tohoku.  Points below Sendai are generally Tohoku as well but places such as part of Fukushima can be considered part of the Kanto plains.  Honshu itself is a very mountainous area with mountains bisecting the entire island into the Pacific and Sea of Japan side.  This creates a very distinct feel in each city depending on which coast you are on.  On the Pacific, the winters can be cold but there isn’t a lot of snow.  The Sea of Japan side which includes Akita and Yamagata receive a lot of snow in the winter.  In the summer, this area is more pleasant but the southern regions can be pretty hot and humid.  It is literally a transition between Hokkaido and the temperate south.  There are many local delicacies such as the Aomori apples and the beef tongue of Sendai.  It isn’t a popular place for tourists as there aren’t many things to see and do compared to other regions.  Hokkaido is well known for seafood and snow, but Tohoku doesn’t have a major drawing point for tourists.

Kanto is the centre of Japan.  It is a small section of Japan that includes Tokyo and located at the bend of the ‘L’ of Honshu.  It is where almost everyone goes when they visit Japan and it is a pretty small area.  The entire Kanto region can be considered as Greater Tokyo as many people do commute from the edges of Kanto to get into Tokyo.  Some would argue that there are major cities and industries as well such as Yokohama but the shear size of Tokyo makes Yokohama feel like a twin city similar to the twin cities in Minnesota.  Of course this is not the same however the idea that both cities can be considered the same city, rather twin cities, is true.  There isn’t really much to say or add to this region as most people know about the Kanto region already.  It is the heart of Japan.  Most companies and most people live in this area.  There are not a lot of historical places to visit anymore but places such as Nikko, Kamakura, and Hakone are excellent places with their own unique feel.

Chubu is a very complex region.  There are several sub-regions to Chubu due to its geography.  It is a region that is bound by Mt. Fuji, bordering the north-western area of Kanto and extending west to Kyoto.  It is also one of the most “visited” regions in Japan yet most people never stop to enjoy the region.  I am also a victim of just passing through the region more times than not.  Most people will go up to Mt. Fuji or pass through on their way to Kyoto.  The few people who do go to the Chubu region will usually head off to Niigata and Nagano or do a little business in Nagoya.  Due to the geography of the area is further subdivided into 3 regions.  The lesser known is the Koshinetsu region that encompasses Nagano, Niigata, and Yamanashi.  This area is well known for its snow and excellent onsen however the use of the name Koshinetsu is not popular.  They are more commonly known by their own respective prefectures.  The Hokuriku region is an area on the Sea of Japan side that is bordered by Niigata and Kyoto.  It is considered a northern path to reach Kansai but it is often overlooked by people.  It is still a somewhat remote area that is easily accessible by plane.  Trains do travel to the region but the new Hokuriku Shinkansen isn’t expected to be finished for a long time.  The main sections allowing access from Tokyo to the heart of Hokuriku will be complete in 2014 but the final section to Osaka has yet to be finalized.  As it stands, this area is often overlooked due to its remoteness.  The Tokai region is the most famous region as it is the main route for the Tokaido Shinkansen that links Tokyo to Osaka.  Shizuoka is one of the biggest prefectures in Japan yet very few people will visit it.  The most famous area is Nagoya where you can enjoy many delicacies.  Nagoya is not a particularly interesting for those visiting other cities but it is famous for its castle, local deep fried delicacies, chicken wings, and Toyota.  Toyota has their main factories located just outside Nagoya with a large museum as well.  Nagoya is also one of the most popular cities for people wishing to see races at the nearby Suzuka Circuit, but the circuit is located in Kansai, not Chubu.

Note:  Due to the amount of information available, this is only part 1 of 2.  Part 2 will be posted next week.

Regions of Japan Information:

Wikipedia:
Japan:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_regions_of_Japan
Hokkaido:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hokkaid%C5%8D_Prefecture
Tohoku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C5%8Dhoku_region
Kanto:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kant%C5%8D_region
Chubu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ch%C5%ABbu_region
Hokuriku:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hokuriku_region
Koshinetsu:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/K%C5%8Dshin%27etsu_region
Tokai:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/T%C5%8Dkai_region

Japan Guide:  http://www.japan-guide.com/list/e1001.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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Sakaiminato (Gegege no Kitaro) August 10, 2010

Posted by Dru in Chugoku, Japan, Travel.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Sakaiminato (Gegegeno Kitaro)” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-sf

Sakaiminato is a very small city located on the border of Shimane and Tottori.  While technically located on the Tottori side of the border, it’s very close to Matsue, the biggest city in Shimane.  It is also close to Yonago, which has an airport making it easy to access this small city from Tokyo and Nagoya.  The best option is to visit from Matsue as it’s just a short drive, or train ride to visit this cool small town.

The city is famous for only two things. For most foreign people, it will be the seafood.  Like most Japanese towns, this one is no exception.  The crab is the most famous, but other seafood such as mackerel and squid are also somewhat famous.  Due to the location and size of this city, it would be very difficult to find information in English, let alone Japanese on what food is good here.  In fact, most of the Japanese guides never mention food, but rather mention the most famous activity in Sakaiminato.  Unfortunately, I only spent a couple hours in Sakaiminato, so I can’t really comment on the taste of the food.  I can say that the city feels more like a town than an actual city.  The streets aren’t busy and most people enjoy the quiet streets.  It can be easy to get lost in the area, so be aware of your surroundings.

The most famous thing to do is to walk down Kitaro Street.  It’s the last stop on the Sakai Line which starts in Yonago and ends at Sakaiminato.  As with the rest of Tottori and Shimane, I highly recommend renting a car to get around as the trains run sparsely.  Kitaro Street is very easy to find from Sakaiminato Station.  Once you exit the station, just look around and you’ll see statues of various strange creatures.  Once you head this way, you will be fine.  The street is fairly short and shouldn’t take more than an hour or so to venture down it.  Taking pictures can be tough as there are hundreds of small sculptures located up and down the street.  One of the most surprising things to see is the fact that the entire street is full of images related to the manga.  Everything from street signs to washroom signs has a Kitaro theme to it.  All of the shops sell the various Kitaro souvenirs, including a few snacks.  However, the biggest draw for souvenirs has to be the cell phone straps.  These are extremely popular with Japanese people, especially manga themed ones.

If you aren’t into shopping, located roughly in the middle is a small shrine dedicated to the creatures of this manga.  While this is not a true shrine in the sense that the gods are “real”, many people still enjoy the theme of the shrine.  You can write your dreams and wishes on small wooden blocks that are cut into the shapes of some of the characters.  There is even a large eyeball floating in a bowl of water that can be turned.  If that isn’t your thing, you can also relax inside a very small park which was created to look like Kitaro’s home.  All of the major characters are inside and you can see their relation to Kitaro himself.  If you have never read Kitaro, or you aren’t interested in it at all, this place may not be interesting for you.  If you are curious about Japan’s obsession with its characters and “idolization” of their cultural treasures, this place is great.  If anything, the city is a nice and quiet place to visit if you walk just outside the main tourist street.

Sakaiminato Information:

Sakaiminato (Official Site, English):  http://www.sakaiminato.net/foreign/en/index.html
Sakaiminato (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sakaiminato,_Tottori
Sakaiminato (Wikitravel):  http://wikitravel.org/en/Sakai_Minato

Kitaro Street (Sakaiminato Official Site, English):  http://www.sakaiminato.net/foreign/en/mizuki.html
GeGeGe no Kitaro (Wikipedia):  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/GeGeGe_no_Kitaro
このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Shinkansen – South Routes February 23, 2010

Posted by Dru in Chubu, Chugoku, Japan, Kansai, Kanto, Kyushu.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “Shinkansen – South Routes” complete with photos.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-kH

Travelling by train in Japan is one of the easiest, yet most complex things to do.  It is a must for anyone who visits Japan. Going to Tokyo, or even Osaka, you are generally better off using the trains.  Travelling by car can take a lot more time.  While the most used trains are in Tokyo, the most famous train line is the Shinkansen.  This is Japan’s high speed rail line, which happens to also be the first high speed rail line in the world.  It was opened before the Tokyo Olympics, and has been expanding ever since.  The most famous image of the Shinkansen has to be that of the 0 series.  These were the original trains that have only recently been retired.  As of December 2008, these trains were taken out of service.  All of the other trains have remained, but each year, several of the older trains have been retired.

The first Shinkansen line was the Tokaido line.  This is the most famous line as it helps tourists head from Tokyo all the way to Kyoto, and for business travellers as it connects Tokyo with Nagoya and Osaka.  While all of the trains are called “Super Express”, this moniker can be confusing.  The Shinkansen is a super express, relative to regular train services.  When taking the Shinkansen, it’s very important to know which train you are taking.  A Nozomi, Hikari, and Kodama are all very different.  When using the JR Pass, the Nozomi is off limits.  If you do take this train, you might end up paying for the full fare regardless.  This is due to the sheer numbers of people using these trains.  Thankfully, the Hikari is still pretty quick with only a few extra stops, compared to the Nozomi.  The only downside is that travelling to Hiroshima and Hakata, in Fukuoka, is a little difficult.

The second Shinkansen line is the Sanyo line.  This is essentially an extension of the Tokaido line.  This allowed the line to connect Fukuoka, in Kyushu, to Tokyo.  Unfortunately, the trains can take around 8 hours to connect both cities making it impractical for most travellers.  Flying is still the best, but Hiroshima can be better than flying, due to airport locations.  When travelling along the Tokaido/Sanyo Shinkansen, there are several trains you could use.  The oldest currently being used is the 100 series.  This is styled like the 0 series.  These trains only travel along the Sanyo portion for Kodama (local) services.  It stops at every station, so the chance of riding this is pretty low for the average traveller.  The 300 series is the next oldest of the trains.  This series was fairly popular, but as I am writing this, they are slowly being phased out.  Currently, they are used for Kodama and Hikari services, with an occasional Nozomi.  This was the first Shinkansen that utilized a wedge style nose, rather than a “bullet” style nose.

In Japan, one of the most famous Shinkansen has to be the 500 series.  It is the most unique Shinkansen for its styling.  These trains have a sharp pointed nose, grey and purple colouring, and resemble a fighter jet, rather than an airplane or train.  Prior Shinkansen were made to resemble airliners.  The 500, while striking, was not very popular with customers.  It was very fast, but it was like a Ferrari.  It was relatively small inside, due to the tube like shape of the body.  The windows were smaller, it was darker inside, and a little noisy as each car had its own engine.  Few of these trains were made, but it’s still a popular train for train spotters.  The recent designs along these lines are the 700 series.  The 700 was the first duckbill styled Shinkansen.  The N700 is an evolution of the 700 series with more emphasis on comfort.  The N700 is also the first Shinkansen to be all non-smoking.  They do have smoking rooms.  In the older trains, there are smoking cars.  Entry into these cars is only for smokers.  Anyone else would be forced to leave, not by the train staff, but by the amount of smoke inside the car.  You can literally see a thick haze of smoke, and you can smell it in the adjacent car.  The N700 is quickly entering service and will be the main workhorse of these lines.  While the windows are a bit smaller than the 700, there is wifi access, for a fee, and two prong outlets in each row.  They are definitely thinking about their businessmen.

Connecting to the Sanyo Shinkansen is the Kyushu Shinkansen.  Currently, this Shinkansen line is under construction, with the southern portion complete.  This will link Hakata with Kagoshima, a city in the south of Kyushu.  At this moment, the line is running from Kagoshima to a point roughly half way to Hakata, the end of the line.  By the spring of 2011, this line is expected to be completed with through service to Osaka starting.  This line uses the 800 series of trains, which abandoned the duckbill style of the 700 series.  These trains have a more European styling, and the interior is said to be nicer than other Shinkansen trains.  When the line is completed, N700 trains will be used as well.  This will make it very easy to reach Kagoshima for most travellers.

This is the first part of two in the Shinkansen Series.  Please continue on to read more about the Shinkansen – North Routes.

Information:

Wikipedia:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shinkansen
Japan Guide (Great page for a snapshot of major services): http://www.japan-guide.com/e/e2018.html
Japan Railways (Lots of information on what to do in Japan):  http://www.japanrail.com/
Japan Railways (Shinkansen Page):  http://www.japanrail.com/index.php?page=JR-Shinkansen-bullet-train
JR Central (Note:  Lots of information on operations and reliability):  http://english.jr-central.co.jp/about/index.html
JR West (Note: This page is not very interesting):  http://www.westjr.co.jp/english/travel/
JR Kyushu (Note:  Great pictures of their trains):  http://www.jrkyushu.co.jp/english/tsubame_top.html

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

2009 Formula 1 Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix October 13, 2009

Posted by Dru in Sports.
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “2009 Formula 1 Fuji Television Japanese Grand Prix” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-hI

On October 4th, 2009, Japan hosted it’s annual round of the Formula 1 Japanese Grand Prix.  For those of you who have been reading this blog, last year, I also attended the Japanese Grand Prix.  This year was a little different.  After two years at Fuji Speedway in Shizuoka, the Japanese Grand Prix moved back to its traditional home of Suzuka Circuit in Mie Prefecture.  Mie is located south west of Tokyo.  The closest major city is Nagoya, but you can still access Kyoto and Osaka from Suzuka.  By and far, the easiest and most common way to reach the circuit itself is to leave from Nagoya.

The biggest difference between Fuji Speedway and Suzuka Circuit is the owner.  Fuji is ultimately owned by Toyota, while Suzuka is owned by Honda.  The two car giants of Japan competed for the rights to hold the Japanese Grand Prix for the last three years.  From this year, the plan was to alternate between Fuji and Suzuka.  Next year’s race was supposed to be held in Fuji.  Unfortunately, due to the downturn in the economy last year, Fuji decided to not hold the race in 2010, so Suzuka stepped up and will hold the race in Japan for the next few years.  Many of the drivers were very happy about this, but what about the fans and the Japanese people themselves?  While a lot of people don’t really care, race enthusiasts were always happy to hear that Suzuka won the race.  It is one of the very few figure 8 circuits in the world, and the only one on the F1 calendar.  It is steeped in history that, while not as old as Fuji, is more prestigious.

Accessing and retuning home from Suzuka Circuit is very easy.  From Nagoya, it’s a simple reserved express train from Nagoya Station to Suzuka Circuit Inou Station.  You can also purchase reserved tickets to get back to Nagoya.  While this may be a little expensive compared to the regular trains, it guarantees that you’ll have a seat, and when you return to Nagoya, that may be very important.  When you do reach the station, it’s very easy to find your way to the circuit.  Just follow the groups of people and you’ll be fine.  While it may be different in future years, be sure to pick up a map and ask the staff for some information to make sure you know your options.  If you want to play it safe, just return to the same station.  The second option is to take the Kintetsu trains to Shiroko Station.  It’s about 5 kilometres away from the circuit, or an hour walk.  There is a shuttle bus, but it can take up to an hour to wait for it.  Many people enjoy a nice walk in the countryside to get to this station.  To reach it, you must also walk past the Inou.  The main advantage of walking to Shiroko is that trains come more often than at the Inou station.  When leaving Nagoya, don’t worry too much about buying tickets.  You can easily buy them at the main entrance as there will probably be a table set up for selling return tickets.  Just be sure to know which tickets you need before leaving.

When entering Suzuka circuit itself, it’s evident that Honda’s circuit company knows what it’s doing.  It has held the F1 event and other major world sporting events for years.  The F1 event itself is very similar to the one in 2008, but there are noticeable differences.  The first is that the party is slightly bigger, yet more compact.  In Fuji, everything was spread out a lot more.  Suzuka’s main entertainment area was behind the main grandstand, and there wasn’t a lot going on outside of that area.  Of course, you can always buy the basic souvenirs around the course, but there were fewer opportunities to do so.  However, buying food was ten times better in Suzuka.  The options were slightly limited, and it wasn’t the cheapest food in the world, but it was good and reasonable for a world sporting event.  The major plus is the number of activities that are available for children.  There is a large ferris wheel, and other various amusement rides that are centred for children.  Suzuka, being Honda’s signature track, has a better amusement area compared to Motegi.  There are various boat rides, and roller coasters.  There was a go-kart track, but this was closed to add more space for exhibitions.  Overall, I’d prefer Suzuka over Fuji, and most Japanese people would tend to agree.  Fuji’s major advantage was being close to Tokyo.

Looking at the race, it was your typical F1 race.  I had the chance to enjoy the event during qualifying for the first time.  It was a nice event, and qualifying made walking around the main areas easier.  It was extremely busy on race day, so if you can enjoy the Saturday qualifying, be sure to do your shopping then; don’t wait until race day or things will be sold out.  Qualifying was riddled with accidents, and the race itself wasn’t that exciting.  In typical F1 fashion, there were several passes on the first few laps, but after that, it was a war of attrition.  Everyone kept circling the circuit and any passing was done in the pits.  By the end of the day, Sebastian Vettel won the race with home team Toyota’s Jarno Trulli in second.  Bringing up the last spot on the podium was McLaren’s Lewis Hamilton.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

Suzuka Circuit Links:

(English – Note that this site has only information on the facilities) http://www.mobilityland.co.jp/english/
(Japanese – Note that this site has information on events) http://www.suzukacircuit.jp/
(Wiki) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suzuka_Circuit
(Official F1 Website) http://www.formula1.com/

The Great Motorcycle Adventure (Take II) June 5, 2009

Posted by Dru in Japan, Shikoku, Travel.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
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Author’s Note:  Dru’s Misadventures has moved to HinoMaple.  Please venture on over there to read “The Great Motorcycle Adventure (Take II)” complete with pictures.  http://wp.me/p2liAm-bW

On April 28, 2009 I embarked on my second great motorcycle adventure.  I went for two weeks to Shikoku.  Shikoku is an island located south of the main island.  It’s the fourth largest island and a dream destination of mine.  I had two destinations for riding adventures, Hokkaido and Shikoku.  As I have written before, I had already visited Hokkaido, with a bad result.  This time, things were completely different.

From Tokyo, there are two simple ways to reach Shikoku.  The fastest and possibly cheapest is to take the highway from Tokyo to Tokushima.  This is roughly 700km in total.  You will start off in Tokyo, head past Nagoya, Kyoto, Osaka and Kobe before going over the Akashi Bridge to Awaji Island and then over the Naruto Bridge into Shikoku.  In Japan, the ETC system can provide significant savings to your trip.  On weekends and holidays, there is a flat rate of 1000 yen for cars and motorcycles with an ETC system.  If you travel overnight, enter or exit between 10pm and 6am, you can receive up to 50% off your total travel costs.  Many people make use of this system, however be very aware that during the weekends and holidays, traffic will be backed up for kilometres.  During the first Golden Week rush, there were traffic jams along every expressway on Japan’s main island and they could stretch for over 100 kilometres in some cases.  ETC has also become so popular, that it’s sometimes faster to go through a regular pay toll gate than the automatic ETC gates.

The second route, and something I recommend if you don’t have ETC, is to take a ferry.  From Odaiba, you can board a ferry and reach Tokushima in 18 hours.  It’s an overnight ferry, but the gas and sanity that you save is a lot.  Plus, you can meet a lot of people if you want to.  It’s definitely better if you can enjoy the trip with a friend.  The ferry arrives around 1pm in Tokushima and it’s just enough time to go around the city.  Going outside the city to other regions can be difficult unless you plan everything correctly.

When travelling in Japan, most Japanese people will use their car navigation to find out how to go from A to B.  This is the most efficient way to do things, but it isn’t always the best.  For motorcyclists, we have a touring bible.  It’s called “Touring Mapple”.  It’s written completely in Japanese, but there are references within each book, road recommendations, and information about camp grounds, hostels, and almost anything you need to know when travelling.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone and everyone.  Whether you travel by bicycle, car, or by it’s intended audience, by motorcycle.  Without it, I would have been lost in my travels.

Please note that this is just an introduction to my actual adventure.  I will be writing about things in much greater detail in the coming weeks.

このblogは英語のblog。もし私の英語は難しい、日本語のquestionは大丈夫。

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